The Dominican Republic is a pleasant destination for many expatriates, with the natural beauty of the countryside, favorable banking system, the welcoming citizens, and the modern capital city of Santo Domingo.
The country sees a large gap between the rich and the poor, and drawbacks to living there include manifestations of these economic struggles, crime in certain areas, and public sanitation issues.
While unrest has historically plagued the country's political scene, stability began to improve with the promulgation of a new constitution in 1966, amended in 2002. This constitution established a unitary republic with 31 provinces and a national district.
The president and vice president are directly elected and cabinet members, called secretaries of state, are appointed by the president. There is a bicameral congress consisting of a Senate of 32 members, one from each province and the national district, and a popularly elected 150-member Chamber of Deputies.
Both the president and members of congress are elected to four-year terms. Judges are appointed by a council comprised of the president, congressional leaders from both the Senate and Chamber, and another member of a non-governing party.
The Dominican Republic is one of the less wealthy countries in Latin America, with most of the rural-based population historically dependent on subsistence agriculture.
Nationwide, the service industry has recently replaced agriculture as the largest employer - due to the Free Trade Zones and the growth of tourism.
This forested, mountainous nation supports a population of nearly nine million while it struggles to improve its economy and grapples with issues concerning sanitation, education, and infrastructure. The Dominican Republic's major economic success during the past two decades has been in developing the so-called maquila or export-assembly industries. However, these have been hampered by periodic electrical power shortages. This situation should improve as new hydroelectric facilities and new electrical plants are opened or old ones refurbished.
Thus the Dominican economy has been evolving from one that was primarily defined by export of raw materials into one that is service-oriented. Tourism is the most dynamic sector, followed by light manufacturing in the industrial free zones. Notable GDP growth in 2002 was reversed in 2003 due to the collapse of a key bank and subsequent government bailout. International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance was approved in late 2003, pending improvements in the country's finance sector.
The present government will encounter many problems left behind by the dictatorships that have governed the Dominican Republic for decades. The current president, Leonel Fernandez, is serving his second (non-consecutive) term, after bolstering the country's economy following his 1996 election, then watching it deflate again under his predecessor's administration. The next presidential election is scheduled for May 2006.
Despite the challenges, visitors and new residents of the Dominican Republic will find that the country welcomes outside investment and that the people themselves, particularly outside the major cities, are extremely friendly to foreigners.